September marks the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year for most American families. Whether you have kids going back to school or not, it’s the perfect time of year to reset your habits.
For most of us, summer has a more leisurely pace. Your routines are disrupted with vacations and late-night outdoor concerts. You’ve enjoyed ice cream cones (as you should) and drank a few too many margaritas. You cut out of work early to head to the beach. Back to School means buckling down, getting stuff done, consistent bedtimes, and staying organized.
You can achieve all this by creating good habits. Good habits help your life run smoothly. Habits are like putting your brain on auto-pilot. They allow you to make good choices without exerting much effort, which then frees up your brain power to learn new, more complicated tasks, get more done, and be happier. For example, most people are in the habit of brushing their teeth. They don’t weigh the pros and cons of brushing their teeth every night. They just do it. Easy.
Going to bed on time or eating a healthy breakfast aren’t much different. If you do them consistently, you won’t deplete your time and energy deciding. Think about all the energy you waste deliberating over whether to go to the gym or not. It’s too hot to exercise. I’m tired. I have a ton of work to catch up on. I always feel better when I go. But I went yesterday. And on and on. Habits take all this away. Habits make things happen. We rarely consider not doing things that are habits.
Anytime you’re making a change in your life, whether it’s moving to a new apartment, starting a new job, or sending your kids back to school, is an ideal time to put new habits into place. The new environment, people, and schedule seem to prime your brain to replace bad habits with new behaviors.
In her book, Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin writes: “Any beginning is a time of special power for habit creation, and at certain times we experience a clean slate, in which circumstances change in a way that makes a fresh start possible…” September has this special power. Second only to January, it’s the best time to join the gym, take a photography class, or quit smoking.
Sometimes we try to tackle too many habits all at once and then get discouraged and quit. Just pick one or two behaviors to target. Like most of you, I’m continually wrestling with my eating and spending habits. But this September, I’ve opted for a couple of very simple habits that I’d like to create:
Take a real lunch break.
This means a time away from my desk to eat. I have a bad habit of eating at my desk. And sometimes I don’t hold a boundary around my lunch break and end up scheduling meetings during it. This just leaves me hungry and resentful. I know it’s important for my body and mind to have a break and refuel. And I also know it’s better for my waistline to eat
mindfully and stop multi-tasking.
Be on time.
I struggle to get out of the house on time. I’m always trying to finish one last email or empty the dishwasher. And I forget it takes me five minutes to use the bathroom, gather my phone and purse and actually drive out the driveway. My goal is to leave five minutes earlier than I think I need to!
I’ve found that one of the most challenging aspects of habit formation or behavior change is the self-criticism that comes with it. A friend and I were recently commiserating about our lack of willpower when it comes to after-dinner snacking. I know that I don’t need the extra calories and feel like I should be able to exert better self-control in this department, so I get down on myself about it. Things like “What’s wrong with you? You have no willpower! Your jeans are already tight!” go through my mind.This kind of self-defeating inner-monologue is only making it worse. Beating yourself up emotionally never leads to positive behavior change. It simply leads to shame, hopelessness, and feeling like a failure.
So, if you’re not quite perfect when it comes to creating new habits, extend yourself some compassion.This is meant to be a fresh start, not another opportunity to focus on your shortcomings. Accountability and self-compassion are both essential for achieving your goals.
What new habits would you like to set in place? Don’t wait until January to start fresh. September is the perfect time to begin. You can finish out 2016 feeling strong and healthy!
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This post was written exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC